How does Jean Genet use imagery in The Balcony?

One of the most obvious ways in which Jean Genet uses imagery in The Balcony is by having the characters act and dress as if they were other, more prominent figures in society. “The Bishop” projects the image of a real man of the Church, dressed in solemn bishop’s attire but interacting with the prostitutes. After the women leave, “he seizes ... his surplice and kisses it,” which is a disconcerting image against the backdrop of a brothel.

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One of the most obvious ways in which Jean Genet uses imagery in The Balcony in by having the characters act and dress as if they were other, more prominent figures in society. For example, one of the visitors to the brothel is “The Bishop.” The character is referred to this way throughout the play.

On stage, the audience sees the image of a bishop, as the character is dressed in bishop’s clothing. He wears the cope, stole, and surplice that are a signature of real bishop’s attire. The imagery is that of a bishop, yet the incongruity is that the character is in a brothel. The particular vestments that Genet’s bishop wears are also symbolic. For instance, the liturgical cope generally is something worn at solemn celebrations. Genet’s audience would immediately understand the significance of the actor’s attire, particularly as the liturgical cope is large, generally of a deep and vibrant color, and heavily embellished.

Thus, the picture of the actor dressed in solemn liturgical clothing and about to interact with the prostitutes in the brothel creates a clear image for the audience of the incongruity of the setting and action versus the dignity of "the Bishop's" role. Genet also has the prostitutes undress "the Bishop" on stage. The imagery helps to undermine the dignity of "the Bishop" and, by extension, of the Church itself, as Genet intended.

The stage direction also says that "the Bishop" stands in front of the mirror on stage holding his surplice. He asks the mirror, “Do I come here to discover evil and innocence?” After speaking to the mirror at length about his life and role, “he seizes ... his surplice and kisses it,” which is another disconcerting image against the backdrop of a brothel.

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